Why Christians Have Got To Stop Demonising or Idolising The Media


As Christians, we're told that we're always going to face opposition and sometimes even persecution. You only have to look around the world today to realise that is true.

Yet sometimes, we in the West have a tendency to see opposition or even hostility when it's not necessarily there. This can be especially true of our interactions with media.

Christians, and especially evangelicals, sometimes behave as if everything the secular media does is inherently wrong, problematic or even dangerous.

There are numerous examples. Senior evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham regularly rail against, "the liberal media's anti-Christian bias". Christian media outlets often join in with this kind of argument. "Want More Evidence of the Liberal Mainstream Media's Bias?" asked one recent headline. Another story reported approvingly that, "Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accused the media of mocking Christians".

Other related industries are in the firing line too. "Disney Criticized for Anti-Christian, Anti-Conservative Bias at Shareholder Meeting," reads one headline from a Christian site. A third of Republicans believe Hollywood is biased against Christianity, according to a recent survey.Those Christians within the industry sometimes accuse Hollywood of the same thing.

It isn't just the US either. A petition was recently handed in to the BBC by Christians who claimed, "Christians are being misrepresented or treated unfairly" by the UK's public service broadcaster.

All of these opinions may have some truth to them, of course. The view of Christians in some forms of media can be fairly negative. The real worry, though, is how this causes Christian to treat the media as a whole.

The atmosphere of suspicion can quickly bleed through into two dangerous reactions. The first reaction is to demonise all secular media. The second is to bury our heads in the sand and only ever engage with media considered to be acceptable or safe.

At its most extreme, this can lead to a paranoia that the secular media as a whole is 'out to get us' – that there are bogeymen around every corner. The bizarre accusation that Starbucks was biased against Christians because it produced a plain red cup at Christmas is the kind of paranoid thinking that can infect us when it comes to media.

The secular media isn't there to preach the gospel. That's our job. While there are some occasions on which it would be nice to have a fairer hearing from mainstream news outlets, we shouldn't write off the whole secular media.

There's another risk, though, and it comes from the opposite direction.

Some Christians can be overly enamoured by the mainstream media. This shows itself when something from the Christian subculture bubbles its way into the mainstream. The excitement that can be generated by appearing in the pages of the New York Times, The Guardian or on the airwaves of the BBC or CNN can be attractive.

This can lead to a worrying sense that unless our project, ministry or church has had the seal of approval from a shiny mainstream media source then we're not doing something right.

There is a middle course that we can set between these two extremes that will serve us and our churches well. A positive, hopeful and open approach to the mainstream media without obsessing over receiving 'approval' is what we should be seeking.

Media, at best, are there to hold the powerful to account, to tell the stories of people whose voices deserve to be amplified and to be 'educating, entertaining and informing' the public. This is the kind of media we should be seeking to engage with and there is plenty of it out there in various formats on both sides of the Atlantic.

So what does good media engagement look like?

First, it's about stories. The reason Jesus taught in parables is that stories are one of the best ways for humans to understand a message or concept. We need to tell the story of our church, ministry, political cause or whatever it may be in a compelling and interesting way.

Secondly, it's about integrity. The kind of media we choose to engage with and create will have an honesty about it that shines through. We should be loudly endorsing integrity in media when we come across it. Rather than complaining that Hollywood is a den of iniquity, it would be better to praise good work. Think about Spotlight, a movie which chronicled the investigation into child abuse in the Church. Not an easy film to watch, but one that (as we argued at the time) is essential viewing for Christians.

Thirdly, it's about being positive and proactive with our faith, rather than defensive. The best communicators in the Church realise that doing this not only makes for good TV, radio or press, but it also spreads our message effectively. Watch this clip of Alpha Course chief Nicky Gumbel on prime time BBC TV – warm, open, funny and positive.

Rev Christopher Landau, a journalist-turned-priest says that our approach should be simple. "In a society where, the younger people are, the less they have to do with church, and where even the most rudimentary teachings of Christianity are a mystery to many," he argues, "we have a duty to use the media - in all its contemporary forms - to seek to re-engage our communities with our own take on what constitutes good news."

Andy Walton is a chairing the Church and Media conference in London on 20 October 2016, which features NT Wright among its speakers. Find out more here.